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Friday, November 28, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid. Er, The Economy OF the Stupid

When Gracie asked me the other day why the economy was in such a mess, it took me awhile to explain it, and I'm not really sure I did. She's 20, and smart enough to understand a lot of things, but I can't say that I'm smart enough to figure it out for myself.

It's hard to believe that only five months ago, we were actually standing on the street where it all began to unravel; Wall Street, in New York. Oh, I know there's more to the economic mess than the greedy guys on Wall Street, but I remember sitting in a cafe in the financial district looking at all of those young men walking around in their light blue shirts and black slacks and thinking to myself at the time that this was a whole different world from mine. Little did I know then that their world was going to impact my world so drastically.

I was in the middle of writing my last blog entry here when I got an email from my husband titled "No Joke". So of course, I thought it was a joke of some sort...or a forward, or some link to a funny video. But it wasn't. He and his entire department had received their layoff notices.

Suffice it to say that he works in the television industry, and we all have to admit that TV has been on the decline for a few years now. As far as my viewing habits, I watch the news and a couple of shows that I like, and that's about it. I have the TV on when I'm working in my office, but only in the background to keep me company because I work alone so much. Television isn't what it used to be to me and to everyone else. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I won't go into it here. 

The sudden downturn in the economy gave the brass at my husband's company an excuse to lay off hundreds of their employees, even though many of their financial troubles were their own to begin with. And these financial troubles they've acquired gives me pause for thought. This is the root of our economic mess...even on a personal level, we have stopped taking financial responsibility for ourselves. As companies and as individuals, we can't just blame a bunch of greedy CEO's in some far away place like Wall Street for this horrible mess...we are each accountable in some way.

We don't know how to handle money! We having been living in a culture of easy credit for too long. There are two people in my life who are perfect examples of what not to do...they think a credit card is free money, even though LOGICALLY they know it isn't. But they can't resist the temptation to HAVE NOW and PAY LATER. The only problem is that they are always having now, and never paying it off because they can't possibly keep up with their own spending when later comes.

I was in a similar position when I was younger. When I first moved away from home, I didn't have a credit card and didn't have any desire to get one...that was my saving grace at the time. But one day an interesting thing happened: I wanted to buy a car, a fairly big purchase at the time, but I couldn't get a car loan until I had established credit. So, in a sense, I was obliged to get a credit card in order to get my car loan. And of course, once I had that card, I got pretty used to using it whenever the urge to have something hit me. And over time I managed to get myself into a certain amount of debt that took me awhile to recover from.

This happened to me a couple of times before I finally got it under control. So I understand how it happens to others and I can see how some people would just never get a grip on their spending urges.

On a larger scale, corporations have to start thinking not just in terms of saving themselves from financial ruin, but recognizing the impact of their actions when it comes to the bigger picture. I've had a theory for awhile now called "The Refrigerator Theory", although I know there are many other versions of my theory out there devised long ago by others who are a lot smarter than I am. 

In simple terms, the theory is that companies, especially the larger ones, can actually choose to impact the economy in a small way, or in a big one. Sometimes one CEO earns more than a dozen employees, and even more. And when you lay off the dozen employees, that's a dozen fewer refrigerators that they are not going to buy because they have no money for it. If you lay off one CEO instead, it's only one less refrigerator. Does that make sense?

In other words, laying off a dozen people has more impact on the economy than laying off one top level person. And not only do you impact the economy by laying off lots of lower-level employees, you begin to destroy what might otherwise be a healthy work environment, which in turn impacts their production and your company! Why don't they think of that?

Even the poor sods left behind after their co-workers have been axed will probably stop buying refrigerators because they are too afraid that they will be next. Again, why don't these companies realize that? It's called short-sightedness and it has long-term impact.

It is unnerving to sit here and not know where this global economic mess is going to leave us all. I believe, as most do, that we will eventually recover, not just my little family, but the global community too. The question is...will we learn anything from it? Will we start to use our brains when it comes to our spending habits and will corporations do the same?

Maybe those greedy Wall Street guys actually gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn something that will change things for the better. This is going to be a very different Christmas.

IJ

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Power Of Words

I was reading Time Magazine the other day on one of my regular monthly ferry trips, and found an interesting article about the Collins Dictionary trying to eliminate 20 old or unused words in order to make room for 2000 new ones.

Not that I ever use apodeictic (unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration) or fusby, (short, stout or squat), but when you read a list of new words that dictionaries have included lately, such as cookie cutter and fanboy (a boy who is an enthusiastic devotee of such things as comics or movies), you wonder about the future of our language. Then again, as with most things nothing is static, not even language.

Words have fascinated me since I first started to read the lyrics of songwriters like Joni Mitchell and realized how weak and ineffective my own lyrics were. Just the right turn-of-phrase can create powerful images and emotions, and literally expand a person's consciousness. I'm not a big fiction reader, but I know the same thing can happen with a well written book.

In listening to some of Barack Obama's speeches over the last two years, you could feel the effect not only of his words but of his delivery. He reminded us of the great orators of the past whose power lay in the way they could rouse the public's emotions, both bad and good, by the way they delivered a speech.

The internet has exposed some interesting, and sometimes disturbing, facts to me about people. Sitting at a computer and typing away just as I am doing now, creates a sort of disconnected self-aggrandizing effect--a sense of fearlessness in expressing one's ideas and opinions. The danger is that once you hit the post button, you are sending a part of your private thoughts out there for anyone to read and even respond to in some cases. And you might not like what they say in return!

Without trying to sound too pompous, I've discovered that there is an awful lot of ignorance out there, so much so that it's almost shocking. People spew all kinds of "information" that is simply incorrect, they list facts that are not true or haven't been properly researched, and others sop it up as if it was out of a bible.

For example, who can forget the elderly woman who stood up at a McCain rally and said Obama was an Arab? Where did she get that idea from? Not that there's anything wrong with being an Arab...but to her, apparently there is. Could it be that she heard people on the campaign trail intentionally repeating Obama's entire name...Barack Hussein Obama? Mr. McCain had to correct her, and he had to impress upon the crowd that Obama was not a bad man. What a shame that it came to that.

In contrast to the internet, old standbys like newspapers and magazines, and radio or television news broadcasts (other than Fox :-), now have my respect like they never have before! They have the rule of research behind them...it doesn't mean that they are always correct, but fact-checking and finding multiple sources for the same information means that what we read or hear from them is probably as pretty close to the truth as it can get.

I want news and information, I don't want it skewed in any particular direction, and when I want an opinion I'll seek it out. But who cares about me? :-) There have been several times when I've found myself in a verbal scuffle on the web when I've expressed my point of view. It has taught me to be a lot more careful about what I say and who I say it to. Words on a computer screen are not like a face-to-face discussion where facial expression and inflection can affect what comes out of the mouth. People are usually more polite when it's face-to-face, but online they become like a pack of dogs on the attack with little or no thought as to how it might impact the person being responded to, or even that there is a human being on the other end of the argument.

I used to engage in these wars of words, but I've learned that it's useless...I'm not going to change anyone's mind and they're not going to change mine, so why even bother? On the rare occasion that I break past my own rules and post my response to something, I leave it at that and don't engage any further. I really should just shut up in the first place.

In Buddhism, one practices something called "right speech". That doesn't simply mean checking information and getting your facts straight. It means that we should be acutely aware of the impact of what we are saying at every moment. Words are like that proverbial ripple effect of a drop of water, they spread much further and impact much more than we realize. A kind word can spread from person to person like warm sunshine, a harsh or ignorant one can create an endless chain of negative events. And it isn't just what we say, it's how we say it...tone of voice, volume, eye contact and facial expression, they all have their effect.

I think most people suffer from the "nobody's listening" syndrome, and the number of blogs (like mine!) and YouTube videos and iReports out there proves that. The idea that no one is listening may very well be true...because if everyone is yelling, who can hear anything? The other side to it, however, is that over time we become louder and more insulting and obtrusive, and we stop thinking about the harm we may be causing.

"You STUPID IDIOT!!" Who hasn't found themselves spouting something at someone in frustration at times? The problem occurs when it becomes almost like an addiction and we CAN'T STOP YELLING or sputtering our angry responses.

Okay, I vow this very second to never post an annoyed opinion on the web again. Until somebody REALLY pisses me off....